The Quest for Common Ground
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As noted by Bohm, the word communication – broken down to its Latin roots – means essentially “to make something common.” The general idea behind this definition is the ideal scenario in which there is a match between what is said and what is heard that yields common understanding.
As important as this obviously is to good communication – and as difficult as it sometimes is to achieve – I think there is a more fundamental sense in which making something common is essential. If the goal of communication is a better world for all – as it is within the context of Yggdrasil’s third soul task – then we need to look a bit more deeply into what “making something common” really means from a soul-based perspective.
At its best, “making something common” begins – before anything at all is said –when two people are in agreement that what they both want out of their communication is an improved relationship, a common ground where it is possible to meet in agreement, and from there work together toward an outcome that benefits each other, as well as themselves. Or as the Sufi poet, Rumi once put it (1):
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and right doing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about."
Paradoxically, when the world is too full to talk about – full with shared intentions for mutual wellbeing – that is when genuine communication can begin.
Although this sounds rather idealistic, I was privileged to witness it in action in the midst of what might have been an insurmountable impasse, where the intention was to find common ground. In the late 1980s, while living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I had a job as conference coordinator at The Trinity Forum – a non-profit whose focus was creating dialogue between people on different sides of various political issues – using innovative techniques of mediation and conflict resolution.
One of the conferences I helped set up brought together a representative of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, a Contra leader, and two US ambassadors of different political views. The conference took place toward the end of the civil war in Nicaragua during the Reagan administration, when the US was actively opposing the socialist regime of Daniel Ortega. While it can be imagined that those locked in battle and their sympathizers would face insurmountable barriers in finding common ground, in practice, the mere assumption that there must be some – which framed the atmosphere of the conference – made it possible.
The discussion was heated at times. Old perceptions – rooted in mistrust and the bad blood of past history – were slow to dissolve, and agreement was hard to come by. But as the participants got to know each other and were able to feel the sincerity of their shared desire for what was best for their country, something shifted. Although differences remained, the shared experience of working together to find common ground left them with more than they had when they started.
Though we may have divergent political views with those who see the world differently than we do; as human beings we all want our basic rights – the freedom of self-determination; the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Though we may have different religious beliefs, we all crave a sense of the sacred; to be lifted up and inspired; to believe in something worth believing in. Though we may be born of different genders; races; ethnicities; cultural backgrounds; or socio-economic status; we are all born, live, and die. We all seek to make creative use of our talents and abilities, seek ways to feed self and family that do not compromise our values, struggle with lessons related to love, make mistakes, and if we are lucky, learn a few valuable lessons along the way that we can pass on to those who come after us. We are human beings and in the end, regardless of our differences, we share the common ground of our humanity.
Where the mutual intention exists to communicate, this is enough to create a space in which it can happen – a field where “the world is too full to talk about.” It is full because this common ground of humanity is huge – tied not just to the here and now, but to our human ancestors, and beyond them, to the animal kingdom out of which our ancestors emerged, the plant kingdom that fed the animals, the minerals that nourished the plants; and the cosmos out of which the solar system gelled that allowed stardust to coalesce into the physical planet on which minerals nourished plants, plants fed animals, and animals evolved to become the ancestors whose lives made possible our being here now. With this common ground beneath us, we can reach out to a future that will still be viable for our children, our children’s children, and whatever unimagined life forms may evolve from our temporary human presence here.
In this vast field too full to talk about, we will find lots to share worth sharing.
The next post in this series is Seeking Mutual Well-Being.
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